What we learned in 2016, and how we plan to turn it into helpful actions in 2017

By Charles Stiles and Carl Phillips

Together, we have over forty years of experience with mystery shopping, customer service, and running retail spaces. The methods for connecting with customers have quadrupled, even over the last couple of years. However, people, in general, seem more and more disconnected. Everyone wants service faster, and they want someone around with a clue when they can’t find what they want.

Our passion is to provide you with the tools, platforms, and analytical insights to best reach and anticipate the needs of your unique customer base. In 2016, we experienced a large influx of international clients as well as new industries interested in how mystery shopping can improve their business. We made three significant adjustments:

1. Rebuilt our entire website
2. Added eight new enhancements or services to our offerings
3. Increased our shopper pool to almost one million worldwide

There’s more to come in 2017.

Four takeaways for 2016

1. Mystery shopping tools are no longer a secret. We saw more new industries seek out the tools we offer in 2016 than ever before, both at home and abroad. Mystery Shopper Services is now in eight countries.

2. The customer’s perception of service and how they are treated can outweigh satisfaction with quality, especially with food or products. Add customer service perception measurement to your 2017 wish list.

3. It’s not bad reviews on social media that harm brands as much as how reviews are handled, from corporate down to the individual store level. The cost to install the ReplyPro tracker is nominal. It creates the space for you to be proactive with your customers.

4. Manufacturers are coming to our industry with a new set of questions about displays, inventory, and company brand perceptions across many locations. We’ll be offering more crowdsource solutions in 2017. There’s a debate about this topic going on among professionals in the mystery shopping industry. Look for an in-depth article from us in early 2017 based on our data and experience. It’s about efficiency.

Customer service tips we relearned in 2016

Most successful owners and managers know what great customer service looks like, but do your people, from management to hourly?

When it comes to turning people into customers that refer and come back, the tenets of good customer service have not changed. These six elements came up over and over this year as important customer service elements, regardless of the industry.
1. Eye contact and a smile to make a personal connection and acknowledge people.
2. Say thank you verbally, not just printed on the receipt.
3. Little things count, like empathizing with a confused customer or remembering their name when they come into the store.
4. Every virtual and brick-and-mortar store needs someone available, that has “a clue.”
5. Make it right, whatever the issue. It’s not about giving stuff away. It’s about acknowledging and taking steps to make things better in the customer’s perception. A customer with a problem can create an opportunity to win a fan that “shares” on social media.
6. Don’t replace in-store experience with push ads when they walk in the door. More ads in the customer’s face does not translate to purchases, necessarily.

2016 innovations to services that will expand in 2017
1. Innovations to web portal and dashboards for clients and shoppers alike, making it easier for both to find what they need, when they need it.
2. One-stop social media tracking and response to comments with ReplyPro.
3. Enhanced reporting and analytics platforms, making audits easier and helping you understand what “the data” is telling you.
4. The ability to offer opinion polling.
5. Close to one million shoppers worldwide and growing.